The shortest turnaround time between NBA seasons in the middle of a global pandemic has fully come to fruition. Teams are playing games in home markets, teams are also impacted by games being postponed, and a little drama in the NBA’s world still exists as Jams Harden and Kyrie Irving has headlined that.
In case you missed the roller coaster of a season there shouldn’t be any surprises that COVID-19 has impacted the NBA as much as “bubble-less” leagues have experienced.
In case you missed it: Contributor Cody Guinn had eight bold NBA predictions before the season. While I may not agree on the MVP take I think we’re on to something here.
Showtime Lakers are back?
Let’s start with the defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time they are currently sitting atop of the Western Conference. The Lakers are also ranked number one in defensive rating this year. No surprise they’re number one overall in the league as well right?
Lebron James has played in all 16 games as of January 22, 2021. James scored 30 points or more in the 16th game against the Milwaukee Bucks marking the first time he accomplished this in the 2020-2021 NBA season.
The biggest meltdown for the Lakers beyond opening night against the Clippers was one Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day marquee game. The Lakers surrendered a 19-point lead against Golden State at home. Bah humbug!
Brooklyn we go hard!
The inevitable happened last week as James Harden found his way with a one-way ticket to Brooklyn. The newly added Net is only three games in and the Nets are 2-1. Their biggest failure thus far is ironically when Kyrie Irving returned to the lineup against the Cleveland Cavaliers this past Wednesday. Brooklyn would eventually lose the game to the Cavaliers 147-135. The concerning part is Collin Sexton dropping 43 points on 16-for-29 shooting (55-percent).
Brooklyn doesn’t come without some drama this season. Hint: we’ve been on board that they are primed to position to be the league’s “dumpster fire team”. The Nets have gone 2-2 since trading for Harden including a 0-2 sweep from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kyrie Irving has undergone his own circle of complications again as he was allowed to take a temporary leave of absence then, attended a party for his father and sister’s birthday celebrations. In a nutshell, he’s apologized while coming back to the Nets eventually.
All that Jazz
If there is an unexpected surprise this season I would have to side with the Utah Jazz. Currently sitting top four in the Western Conference and winners of seven games in a row set them with the league’s highest current win streak. Isn’t it interesting that Utah is also third-best in the league for defensive rating?
Utah will be in prime position all season to capture a spot in the top four if this is sustainable. The Portland Trailblazers are currently suffering a few injuries as Jusuf Nurkic went down with a broken wrist and C.J. McCollum with a sprained foot that will sideline him for four weeks.
Donovan Mitchell is the driving factor of this team offensively meanwhile the Jazz as a team can defend with former Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert. Mitchell isn’t having any kind of greater year as opposed to last season. Maybe the Jazz just got better?
Shooting fear syndrome?
If the NBA had a few basketball related diagnosis, I’d quickly diagnose Ben Simmons has being fearful of shooting. Of course, I’d probably have to go through years of schooling to receive an NBA MD title huh? Look let’s look at the numbers here shall we?
Simmons has played in 13 games this season for the 76ers and only attempted four field goals from the three-point line. Only connecting on one of those attempts. Now, something in Philly is cooking right. The 76ers currently are first place in the Eastern Conference and one of the top five teams in defensive rating this season.
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” applies here? Seth Curry and Shake Milton are both averaging 17 points a game. Milton is doing this off the bench. Both are looking like primed shooters and compensating for the lack of Simmons’ shooting attempts. The biggest question here is does this work for Philly in the long-run and maybe Philly made a wise decision with their offseason moves to get shooting reinforcements?
Where my Rookies at?
LaMelo Ball wasn’t the first pick of the 2020 NBA Draft but he’s definitely doing some first things. Ball becomes the youngest player to ever record a triple-double. The Hornets went on a four-game win streak recently and LaMelo is pacing his rookie class to possibly lead in the following categories: total scoring, double-digit scoring performances, rebounds, assists, and steals. He may be the earliest easiest pick for Rookie of the Year at this point.
James Wiseman, who is my Rookie of the Year pick, is quietly in Golden State averaging 11.6 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game, and 1.5 blocks per game. Wiseman is also shooting 50-percent from the field. It would take increased responsibility for Wiseman’s game to jump beyond just an “in training” role next to Draymond Green.
One of the biggest “steals” of the draft could be Tyrese Haliburton, who was selected at 12th by the Sacramento Kings. Haliburton is currently leading all rookies in effective field goal shooting at 63.7-percent.
The New York Knicks are good at what?
Defense! That’s right defense! Would it be considered a surprise from a Tom Thibodeau-led team? Maybe not now right? The Knicks are back this year and only allowing 102.8 points per game from their opponent. This is a league-best! That’s right over some of the better rated defensive teams we’ve discussed so far.
How is that working out for the grand scheme of things? Well, the Knicks currently reside in the 8th seed out in the Eastern Conference. Maybe we thought wrong about who would hover for the last chance for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
A little bit of early success? The Knicks have respectfully beaten the Jazz, Pacers, Bucks, and Warriors. These are games that were not impacted by COVID-19 cases and played with full potential on both sides. They’ve shown on any given that that they’re willing to compete but again no surprise to a Thibbs-led team. I’d say count on the Knicks sticking around for the playoff push.
Stephen Curry and Luka Doncic are giving us deja-vu
I released early NBA Awards predictions a couple of months ago and was sold that Luka Doncic was the go-to pick for the 2020-2021 NBA Season. However, in all fairness, Steph Curry was my runner-up.
Side-by-side Curry currently averages 28.2 points per game, 6.1 assists per game, and shooting 45.1-percent from the field (37-percent from the three-point line). Doncic is averaging 26.8 points per game, 10 rebounds per game, and 9.6 assists per game. Doncic’s shooting is almost identical from the field at 45.4-percent (28-percent from the three-point line). Luka looks better on paper as he’s scratching averaging that triple-double.
Both players are about equal shooting 20 shots a game and connecting on about nine of them. Both the Mavericks and Warriors sit close in the standings (8-7 records as of January 23, 2021). For what it’s worth Curry is having a very similar season to the 2015-2016 season when he was the NBA’s MVP. This MVP race reminds me of the 2016-2017 season. Russell Westbrook won the award averaging a triple-double while debates were heated for James Harden to also win the award that year.
Both players will have to keep their teams into some sort of contention for the playoffs. 55 wins from the Rockets couldn’t propel Harden to win the MVP in the 2016-2017 season. Westbrook ran away with the award as he led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 47-25 record and the 6th seed in the Western Conference. So, winning more games than the other candidate didn’t necessarily persuade the voters.
Not so fast the season still is struggling with postponements!
According to the wonderful postponement tracker from Hoops Rumors, there are now officially 20 games postponed due to COVID-19. With simple math and assuming most teams played around 13-15 games by now, that’s about 5% of the 2020-2021 season games postponed.
Looking at the bigger picture your favorite team might have an extra night off because the Celtics, Wizards, or Grizzlies have caused a mandatory week or two off against coming in contact with any other team.
The part we’re all awaiting is how the NBA will proceed after February. There are games scheduled for all teams through the first week of March and then, the NBA is set to take a short “All-Star break” before resuming its season. By the way, where and when the teams will play its second leg of the season has not been determined.
I’ve personally felt like the NBA will return to a bubble for a shorter time given that no sports league has been able to accomplish holding off postponements due to COVID-19. If vaccines bring forth herd immunity by the summer perhaps a bubble to finish the season by the playoffs could allow teams to play playoff games in their own market by the summertime.
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